September through mid-October is a magical time in Aspen Snowmass. The mountain air gets a little crisper with warm, but not-too-warm days and cool nights. The hillsides become multi-hued tapestries as the scrub oak turns red and burnt orange. Yet, the most stunning of all indicators of the fall season are the quaking, golden aspens. Here is a guide to the best leaf peeping — by car, by foot, or by gondola.

Along the Winding Road

Maroon Bells
Maroon Bells

Maroon Bells & Maroon Lake

Maroon Lake always gets top billing for fall color, not just in Aspen, but in all of Colorado. While that means you're guaranteed company on the lake shore, there is a good reason it garners so much attention: there is simply no other vista that is more perfect. Sweeping up from both sides of the lake is a mosaic of aspen trees turning every shade from green to gold, and in between, the twin summits of Maroon Bells, which on still mornings reflect on the lake's surface. Show up early, or expect to take the shuttle. Either way, it's so worth it.

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Independence Pass

Take the drive from Aspen on Highway 82 to Independence Pass at 12,095 feet and you will pass gorgeous stands of aspen along the way — both along the road and across the valley. You will be well above tree line by the time you get to the pass, but you can stop along the way at a pull out or trailhead to photograph stands of white-barked aspen with their brilliant sunlit gold leaves.

Castle Creek Valley

Plan on pulling over often along Castle Creek Road as it winds through the valley. Vast swaths of golden aspen contrast with dark green evergreens across the wide valley. Take a stroll through the ghost town of Ashcroft where the changing leaf colors make a gorgeous backdrop.

Immerse Yourself While on Foot

American Lake Trail

This hike set in the Castle Creek Valley is a leaf lover’s favorite. The hike to the lake is 6 miles round trip and the trail’s first mile climbs steadily through bright aspen woods.

Hunter Creek Trail

Closer to town, the Hunter Creek Trail climbs up to the gentle meadows of the Hunter Valley and remnants of cabins on an old homestead. Prepare to be awed — aspens abound.

Capitol Lake Trail

For the more ambitious, the Capitol Lake trailhead is 24 miles from Aspen and requires a 4-wheel drive to reach. However, the destination is worth the effort. This hike has few rivals for scenic pleasures. The hike to the lake is 12.6 miles round trip, but you can always make one of the spots along the creek your destination. The views along the way will not disappoint you.

Chill Out on the Elk Camp Gondola

Leaf Peeping in Aspen Snowmass
Leaf Peeping in Aspen Snowmass

For more leisurely leaf peeking, ride the Elk Camp Gondola on Snowmass Mountain. You’ll quietly glide by quaking aspens to the Elk Camp Restaurant where you can enjoy a casual lunch on the sun-soaked deck. Bring your camera and your hiking boots to get up close and personal with the fall foliage.

Published on September 2018

About the Author

Susan Linden IAS
Susan Linden, writer


Susan Linden has been wordsmithing as an advertising copywriter, feature writer, and storyteller since her college days. She left the whirlwind corporate world to live in the mountains and spends as much time as she can hiking, biking, and skiing in them. Working, playing, and raising a family in the Roaring Fork Valley for the last 29 years gives Susan a unique insider’s perspective to share.

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